Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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21 May 2008

It’s Not That Bad, Is It? The Changing Role of the Peak Oil-Aware

windyI enjoyed Sharon Astyk’s recent piece about energy descent “Our Tails Get in the Way”, and its use of Winnie the Pooh as a metaphor. I am similarly reading Winnie the Pooh to my youngest at the moment, and rediscovering what wonderfully written books they are. As I read last night, I found a bit that illustrated something I have been musing on over the past couple of days. Pooh and Piglet are out walking one a very windy day….

“Supposing a tree fell down Pooh, when we were standing underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

This quote resonated with me after watching James Howard Kunstler on Glenn Beck’s show on CNN. It was also something I was thinking about after Monday’s You and Yours show and a couple of talks I have given recently. Kunstler has always, as far as media appearances go, been the bearer of bad tidings, the Writing on the Wall, taking the role of persistently breaking the bad news about peak oil and the end of affluence to a population that really doesn’t want to hear.

Things are moving so fast at the moment as we stand on the cusp of $130 a barrel oil and the impacts are starting to bite on everyday lives, and it feels to me like our roles are changing. In the CNN clip, it is actually the presenter who is in peak oil panic mode, and Kunstler finds himself more in the role of “whao, slow down, deep breaths now…”. The presenter has clearly either just had, or is having live on air, his End of Suburbia moment, his peak oil revelation, and is turning to Kunstler for some support.

It left me wondering, as did the You and Yours programme, about how those of us who have already undergone our peak oil moments, who have sat in the dark place already, and who have re-emerged with our daily lives underpinned by an awareness of the great impermanence of our industrial surroundings, are finding our roles changing as the rest of our friends and neighbours catch us up.

I find that with more and more people my role changes from saying “do you know what, this is really, really serious”, to saying “well yes, given that it is really serious, don’t panic, let’s explore this…” Clearly there are times when a peak oil fire and brimstone talk is appropriate, but I am finding more and more as I travel and give talks that audiences are catching up very fast and need clarification and the placing of their work in the context of the emerging responses, of which Transition is one. No-one seems to have mentioned this to Bob Hirsch though…

PS.  Scintillatingspeck (presumbly not the name on his/her passport) has just written a really good response to this post here.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Will O'Leary
21 May 2:52pm

Thank you for keeping us informed Rob , I find it all strangely exciting . Let’s just keep the transition train rolling!

Mike Grenville
21 May 9:12pm

since this morning when you wrote your article saying the price was nudging $130 it is now $133.89 later the same day.

As we didn’t have time to show you round when you were here for the Unleashing of Forest Row, Here are some pics of the real Pooh Bear places on the Ashdown Forest:

The Enchanted Clump

Pooh Sticks Bridge

Mike Grenville
21 May 9:14pm

oh 🙁 external photo links don’t work using html

22 May 1:26am

Hm. I watched the Kunstler clip on CNN and did notice that, right after that, the next pressing news item was, I kid you not, “Rat on Cat on Dog”, about a pet rat that rides on a cat, which rides on.. you see. Which reminds me of Kunstler calling us Americans “a ridiculous people”– another count on which he’s not wrong…

My kid loves Pooh, too.


22 May 5:49pm

history will prove correct.
the fall of rome was slow due to an agrarian life style.
americas fall will be accelerated due to a rediculous life style.
as we have read , rome became city states.
this could also be in our future.
places like atlanta , charlotte , miami , jacksonville , houston , dallas , las vegas , L.A., phoenix , boston ,denver , chicago , st. louis , new york , baltimore , D.C. , and buffalo will go up in flames.
look to communities with around ten thousand people in a village with farmland surrounding them
to be the great city states in the future.

Kate Willshaw
22 May 9:00pm

Eddie Mair had his own “End of Suburbia” moment on Radio 4’s PM this evening when talking to an oil expert who told him that Peak Oil is likely to arrive by 2011 to 2013 and that “we are now reaching uncharted territory”. You could hear the panic in his voice at that point.

Anyway, I’m new to the blog. I’ve just become involved in Kendal’s nascent Transition Town group and I’m desperately trying to educate myself about how we can get the movement off the ground here.

[…] people down off of ledges I just read a post over on Rob Hopkins’ blog, Transition Culture, that startled me with its resonance to my […]

Nicola Dobiecka
23 May 2:03pm

Myself, partner and friends have to keep reminding ourselves not to be excited when we hear of yet another increase in the price of oil.

We all individually had the same thought – the quicker it rises to an unaffordable amount the sooner others who aren’t already thinking this way will want to start looking to ‘do something’ and we can really get our Transition Town (Wolverton) going (we’ve shown 2 films and are now planning a series of events).


[…] Important piece by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement and Transition Culture […]

Jen Hartley
23 May 7:00pm

Great post (as you know from my having linked to it on my blog). You’re right, my passport does not say Scintillating Speck- it says Jennifer Hartley.

I’m struck not only by the responses of friends who are suddenly “getting it,” but the impact of witnessing journalists, news anchors, etc- public personae- looking and sounding panicked. It’s one thing to have a private anxiety attack, and another entirely to have one with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of witnesses. What impact does this have on the public? And what will be the impact when government officials cannot conceal their anxiety, when they cannot wipe the stricken expressions off their faces, or hide the quaking in their voices? It raises so many questions for me about the nature of leadership and the meaning of readiness. There is much to understand and learn about social psychology in this context, I think.

L Davis
24 May 4:05pm

Oh…I don’t know how many folks are actually coming around to the idea that peak oil is for real, and that preparations ought to be made now. My husband thinks I’m a bit loopy for even mentioning it, and my family thinks I’m trying to ruin their good time!

Danny Bloom
5 Jun 1:07pm

I came here via treehugger via New York Times, surfing the Net here in Taiwan. Great post, and actually it was sami grover who led me here from his treehugger post.

Wonder if you have ever heard of or considered a very future idea of polar cities, to house survivors of global warming in FAR distant future, not now of course, but maybe around 2500 if worst comes to worst, as I think it will, and not only me of course. If time allows, contact me at danbloom GMAIL dot COm and i can tell you more about what i am doing with polar cities and WHY…..but of course transition cities come first, and hopefully we never need polar cities. it’s a just in case idea…… your POV?


Danny Bloom
5 Jun 1:15pm

You wrote: “I find that with more and more people my role changes from saying “do you know what, this is really, really serious”, to saying “well yes, given that it is really serious, don’t panic, let’s explore this…” Clearly there are times when a peak oil fire and brimstone talk is appropriate, but I am finding more and more as I travel and give talks that audiences are catching up very fast and need clarification and the placing of their work in the context of the emerging responses, of which Transition is one. “

Could Polar Cities be another emerging response, albeit a much futuristic one. I am not calling for polar cities now. I am using the idea and the image, the visual image, to try to wake up those people who are still sleepwalking, including reporters and editor at newspapers around the world….who still won’t touch the topic of polar cities with a ten foot pole.

The New York Times did broach the subject in a blog post at Dot Earth on March 31, and that helped push the idea of polar cities into the blogosphere. My thinking is that at some point in time, maybe 30 generations down the road, we might need sustainable northern retreats to house survivors of global warming and peak oil, and that we should do a little planning and designing and locating them now. Build them much later. But many questions remain about who gets in, who gets left out, how govern them, how administer them, how these breeeding pairs in the Arctic can survive 1000 years inside them maybe, and then come out to repopulat the middle regions again. In Lovelock’s words: breeding pairs.


what do you think Rob, and others.

Danny Bloom
5 Jun 1:18pm

This is what Sami Grover wrote about your post at treehugger:

” Not too long ago, we as a movement spent most of our time trying to
convince people, sometimes a little shrilly, about the imminent
dangers of climate change, resource depletion etc, and trying to get
across the gravity of the situation we were facing. Yet while the
doubters remain, the debate has noticeably shifted in recent years
from “Is there a problem?”, to “Heck yes there’s a problem! What are
we going to do about it?” Rob Hopkins has an interesting post about
this over at Transition Culture, specifically discussing how the peak
oil community is shifting from sounding the alarm, to leading people
towards the fire exits.”

Danny Bloom
5 Jun 1:22pm

So: transition cities can be seen as fire exits, lifeboats, lifelines. Polar cities, although hopefully we will never need them, even in 2500, could also be thought of as fire exits, too.

Most of all, please bear in mind “polar cities” is mostly a non threatening thought experiment for now and that’s all there is to it. Nothing to get alarmed about. BUT we might actually need similar so-called polar cities 500 years from now. I am the only one working on this project now, but would love to have others join me, even though I know it sounds ludicrous…..SMILE

it’s not.


Danny Bloom
6 Jun 3:16am

I told Sharon today:

“Great post, Sharon. I came here via Sami Grover at treeugger and Rob Hopkins in the UK at transition towns.

Said a top scientist at Yale to me today:

“Wow. I have thought about worst case contingency plans in terms of policy
(mitigation) action, but not this polar cities adaptation measure.”

He was referring to polar cities, our fire exits for the future, our lifeboats for the future. Sharon, have you ever considered the idea of polar cities and what they might mean for humankind? See info here. Maybe one day blog pro or con on them, too?


Sharon, I feel it is already too late. We passed the tipping point about 40 years ago, and we are now living on borrowed time. Forget 2012 or 2015. We are done for as a civilized humanity. O the humanity! Meanwhile, as we jabber, the highways of Norther America, South America, Asia and Europe are clogged with “CO2 beasts” and nobody is lifting a finger to stop this sad end of humankind.

Now is the time to prepare for transition towns, and later for polar cities. We will need transition towns by 2050, and we will need polar cities by 2500. For the breeding pairs in the north to continue to human species. This is serious. We need to face the reality of it all. We are not in kindergarten anymore. Time has run out.

We cannot get down from the tree because we climbed to high, yes. Perfect metaphor. We are done for. Our goose is cooked. But we still have 30 more generations to prepare for the worst. The worst won’t happen for another 500 years. So let’s roll up our sleeves, our mental sleeves, our spiritual sleeves, and get to work. Forget life in the Lower 48 and Europe and South America and China and India. All those “places” will be unlivable by 2500.

Sharon, what do YOU think of these ideas?”

— Danny

Danny Bloom
9 Jun 3:31pm

“Supposing a tree fell down Pooh, when we were standing underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

I don’t really understand this. What is it supposed to mean? that global warming is NOT happenbing? suppose peak oil didn’t happen? What does it mean. I don’t get it…

a bit thick in the head these days

9 Jun 3:40pm

Hi Danny,
I guess I meant, in the context of the rest of the piece, that we have moved from those of us who advocate powerdown/Transition saying “supposing business as usual collapsed and we weren’t ready?” (to which the wider response has generally been ‘supposing it didn’t’), to one where the more general population say, as the oil price rises and starts to really hurt more and more of us, “suppose everything collapsed horribly and we weren’t ready” and we find ourselves saying in reply “well perhaps it needn’t if we can change how we do things”, or “supposing we let go of some of the stuff we cling to, actually what we create in this new context could be quite wonderful”. I hope that makes sense… .
thanks, Rob

Danny Bloom
9 Jun 3:48pm

Hi Rob
Thanks for the clarification. Yeh, that does make sense and I get it now.

— Danny

Do you think, ever hear of my polar cities idea, that in some far distant future, 2500 say, we might also need polar cities, or northern retreats, post transition towns….or is that too far down THE ROAD to even think about? Would love to hear your point of view on the concept for future times, not now of course. Most people think I’m nuts to even talk about such things, and as far as i know i am the only one proposing such settlements for the far distant future. Don’t know why, this is just my reaction to where we are now. but i love transition towns, they come first, we need them…..but 30 generations later, we might have to migrate north for food and temperatures that are survivable……do you think so? or are u just focused on the here and now? that’s most important of course, the here and now. I am just stuck in 2500, for some reason…


9 Jun 3:55pm

Thanks… I guess I hope that if we can really crack this then there won’t be a need for relocation on that scale… I feel like we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but as you say, we are in the here and now, and I still think we can turn this round…

Danny Bloom
9 Jun 4:06pm

Thanks for note, Rob. I agree, focus should be on here and now, and I am also an optimist, I remain hopeful that we can really crack this, I really do, and the last thing I ever want to see is actual polar cities going up in the far north in the far distant future, and I do believe that we can turn this around, here and now, in next several generations, in the next 50 to 100 years, I believe we can do it. I believe we will.

But just in case, and I hope my work is all in vain, I really do, I am spending part of the my time these days trying to peer into the far distant future, just as a visualization exercise, a thought experiment. I don’t want anyone to follow me on this path. Be here now. yes yes yes.


Danny in Taiwan, island boy

here’s a visual map of polar cities region, ice free, snow free, average temps like UK now. year 2500. Do not go down this road, please! Just take a peek.

Danny Bloom
9 Jun 4:16pm

Speaking of this: “supposing we let go of some of the stuff we cling to, actually what we create in this new context could be quite wonderful….”

A man in Germany, Clinton Callahan, wrote this recently in his newsletter:

“Shifting from an unsustainable *having culture to a sustainable
*being culture involves an *inner getting off the grid.

It is an
inner journey (the journey to find, for example, what is my identity
if I am not defined by what I possess) as well as an outer journey
(the journey to find out what is life without a car).”

Good points, no?

— Danny, ….at 60, no car, no house, no assets, no computer, no retirement funds, no insurance, nada …but enjoying every day to the fullest….

Danny Bloom
20 Jun 2:16am

FYI: Polar cities have now been dubbed “Lovelock cities” in honor of James Lovelock

Polar cities are now being dubbed “Lovelock cities” in honor of James Lovelock, who has said that in the future human populations will likely be reduced greatly by global warming and only “breeding pairs in the Arctic” will keep the human species going. This is where the idea of polar cities germinated from.

Now, after blogging about polar cities for almost 2 years, and getting a little ink here and there, mostly in the blogosphere (and almost nothing in the mainstream media) I have decided to dub polar cities as “Lovelock Cities” in honor of James Lovelock, and also to help reporters and editors and readers understand better that these so-called polar cities at NOT at the poles per se, but merely in northern areas of the world; some Lovelock cities might be situated in Colorado, Switzerland and Britain, in fact. New Zealand and Tasmania, too. Patagonia, too. None at the North Pole because the North Pole will be underwater (or is that under water?).

At any rate, you heard the term first today here: LOVELOCK CITIES. May they help preserve the human spirit and the human species in the far distant future, IF WE NEED THEM. Let’s hope we never need them. Remember, this is all a “just in case” scenario. A “what if” scenario.

Here’s a timeline for Lovelock Cities:

2008-2050 : business as usual; meetings, conferences, talk talk talk

2050 – 2080 : preparations finally get underway

2100 : first mass migrations to Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Britain, Tasmani, New Zealand, Patagonia begin

2200 : second wave of mass migrations bring more people north from India, Africa, Asia and the Americas — and south to Tasmania and New Zealand

2300 : World Government Body (WGB) set up first officially sanctioned polar cities for breeding pairs in the Arctic, also known as Lovelock Cities

2400 : major climate disasters worldwide with scarce food, fuel, power, and other resources (coupled with overpopulation) begin reducing world population from 9 billion people to 1 billion people

2500 : world population declines to just 200,000 “breeding pairs” in the Arctic (and southern extremes as well, including Antarctica) in 100 to 30 Lovelock Cities situated in those regions and administered and governed by the World Government Body or some such entity, perhaps the IPCC. [Mad Max conditions outside these Lovelock Cities, aka polar cities, last for 1000 years… until 3500]

4500 : The human species has made it through the Great Interruption, intact but greatly reduced in numbers. Full recovery possible beginning in 4500. Hope springs eternal.